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Owners of lousy hybrid Honda Civics have new reason to consider small-claims court

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Heather Peters in courtLemon owners of the world, unite!
You have nothing to lose but your small-claims court filing fees! 

That's pretty much the message sent out by Heather Peters this week after she won her false-advertising claim -- and $9,876.19 in damages -- against American Honda Motor Co. in a California small-claims court. (The 26-page ruling is attached below.)

[2/7/11 update: NC small claims filing fee is $86, plus $30 for service by sheriff. NC small claims would be less friendly to Peters approach, but we do have a lemonlaw. See today's Road Worrier.]

Rejecting Honda's your-mileage-may-vary defense, the judge ruled that Honda misled Peters in its advertising about the fuel economy she could expect when she bought her 2006 hybrid Honda Civic, and again when Honda persuaded her in 2010 to accept a software upgrade that only made her problem worse.

I'll be reporting on this Monday. I'd like to hear from lemon Civic owners who have joined the class-action settlement, and from any who are taking the small-claims route.  Please email me, and don't forget your name and daytime phone number.

Some Triangle owners of 2006 hybrid Civics have similar gripes: initial fuel economy well below the advertised 50mpg figure, and getting much worse in subsequent years. (See Jan. 10 Road Worrier column "Some hybrid owners are dissatisfied with their vehicles," with reader comments.)

The problem stems from a bad battery pack Honda used in the hybrid Civic for several years (and replaced a few years ago). There is a big class-action lawsuit settlement pending now -- one of those deals where the affected car owners get a few hundred dollars apiece, and their lawyers get a few million dollars.

On CNN today and at her appropriately named website,, Peters urges her fellow hybrid lemon owners to opt out of the class-action approach, and to seek the streamlined justice of small-claims court instead. She offers to share her evidence, and her site points to legal decriptions of small-claims courts in each state.

Unlike California, North Carolina allows the parties to bring their lawyers into small-claims court. And the damages limit here is $5,000, half the California limit.

Here are two references on small claims court in North Carolina: the overview cited on the Peters website, and a more detailed guide prepared by the Legal Aid Society of North Carolina (which is cited as the authoritative source by the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts). I don't know whether either guide is entirely up-to-date, and the Legal Aid folks did not return my calls.

[2/6/12 update: North Carolina's "Lemon Law" helps car owners in some cases. Learn about it from the N.C. Department of Justice, here.]

Honda says it will appeal, and Peters isn't expecting to get her money anytime soon. What will happen here?  

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About the blogger

Bruce Siceloff reports on traffic and transportation. A News & Observer reporter, editor and blogger since 1976, he took over the Road Worrier column in 2003. Lately he drives I-40 with the cruise control set at 68 mph. You can e-mail Bruce, call him at 919-829-4527, check out his Crosstown Traffic blog or follow him (@Road_Worrier) on Twitter.